Quatre and Trowa thanked their driver, and climbed carefully out of the taxi. As the limo pulled away to find someplace inconspicuous to park, they turned and stared up at the huge house before them with a little trepidation and anticipation.
"Ano... Maybe we should have called first, Trowa. I mean, what if I was wrong? What if he isn't here after all?" Quatre asked nervously.
Trowa cast a glance down at the man by his side and sighed.
"With a name like 'Maxwell House'? How could he not be here?" he asked, pointing up at the orphanage's proudly colorful sign.
Quatre giggled a little.
"Yeah. I guess you're right. It's just strange. We haven't seen him since he left looking for Heero after the Mariemaia incident. And we haven't talked to him since a couple of years after that. And that was seven years ago. I'm just nervous."
Trowa smiled down at his partner.
"Just imagine his expression. We'll get the last laugh for once," he said softly, tugging on Quatre's hand.
Quatre grinned and followed Trowa up the sidewalk.
"That would be a first!"
They walked up to the brightly painted door, and knocked loudly. The door swung open a few moments later and a teenaged boy peered warily out.
"Hi. We're looking for Duo Maxwell?" Quatre said tentatively, smiling at the teen.
"He's not here right now," the boy replied guardedly, eyes narrowing as he took in their neat business apparel.
"Do you know when he might be back, then?" Quatre asked.
Quatre frowned. Now what?
"Is there anyone else in charge we could speak to?" Trowa asked smoothly.
"Right now? Me."
Trowa's eyebrow raised in query.
"Everyone else is busy," the teen replied sullenly, clearly unhappy with their presence and their interest in Duo.
"I'm sorry... Have we come at a bad time?" Quatre asked politely.
The teen's eyes suddenly widened as he focused on something behind them.
Fearing that it might have been a ploy to distract them, neither man turned to glance behind them. The teen's jaw clenched a little.
Before anyone could say anything, a cheerful voice rang out, heavy with disbelief.
"Quatre? Trowa? Is that you?"
They turned and saw Duo walking up the front walk with a small girl clinging to his neck.
Quatre smiled, relieved.
"Q-man! Man! I haven't seen you in ages!"
Quatre smiled as Duo walked up to them and shifted the girl to give them each a quick embrace.
"You guys look great!" Duo said, eyeing them both.
Despite the growth spurt that had hit Quatre shortly after the last war, Trowa still remained taller than him by a few inches. They had both lost the whipcord boyishness that had marked them as youths, and had filled out handsomely. Although, one thing that hadn't changed was Trowa's trademarked bang. However, now, rather than looking rakish, it gave him a distinguished, stylish air. Of course, that could have been the tasteful suit.
"I see Quatre's had his wicked way with your wardrobe," Duo grinned.
Trowa nodded in reply, taking in Duo's own fashionable business suit with a quirk of his eyebrow.
"Ah. I just got back from a Child Services Board meeting. There's an awful lot of red tape involved in running an orphanage," he said, answering Trowa's unspoken question.
"Come on in," Duo said, stepping up to the door.
The teen eyed him with a mixture of adoration and caution.
"It's okay, Mark. They're old friends of mine," Duo assured him.
Mark's face cleared instantly, a smile creasing his features as he moved aside and ushered everyone in.
"We've had a lot of reporters and stuff here recently. There was a bad incident not too long ago with this guy going berserk and taking out most of his family. We took in the brother and sister who made it out. Everyone's been wanting to interview them and stuff. Mark, here, has taken it upon himself to weed out the riff-raff. Sorry, guys, but with those suits, you scream 'reporter'," Duo explained with a wink.
"Oh!" Quatre exclaimed, glancing at the teen with a new appreciation.
"No problem," Trowa answered.
"Everyone's in the living room for story time," Mark said diffidently.
"Cool. Come on, guys. I'll introduce you to the family," Duo said, grinning at them both as he headed through the huge house.
There was a loud crash from somewhere upstairs, and a chorus of giggles. Duo stopped in his tracks with a wince. Before he could turn around, Mark piped up.
"I got it. I think they were building a fort... I can handle it."
"Thanks, Mark. I appreciate it. Give me a yell if you need any help," he said, smiling thankfully at the teen.
Mark nodded and mumbled something as he turned and jogged off towards a set of stairs.
Quatre took advantage of their pause to examine the house with an appraising eye.
It wasn't anything like he'd expected for someone like Duo. There was beautifully carved and stained woodwork everywhere. Hardwood floors, oak trim, recessed shelving in deep earth tones and crisp cream-colored walls. It was very elegantly designed, with a lot of open space, airy, high ceilings, lots of windows, and a fairly minimalist approach to accessories.
And one of the largest collections of fine furniture Quatre had ever seen.
He laughed with surprise.
"Duo, you have got to be one brave man," he said.
"Whyfor?" He asked, turning to glance at his old friend.
"Only you would run an orphanage and then furnish it in Kenji Lowe. I know how much that stuff costs... I've furnished a few rooms of my own with it."
Duo opened his mouth to say something, and then, uncharacteristically, snapped it shut again. He eyed Quatre for a long minute; Quatre was beginning to get nervous. Had he said something wrong? He didn't mean to offend Duo. Quatre was sure all of the children he took in would be well behaved. But Lowe pieces ran to the thousands of dollars a piece. And that was for the low-end market.
Duo suddenly smirked one of his old evil little grins.
"Duo- I- what?" Quatre asked, confused.
"Nothing," Duo said brightly, turning quickly enough that the girl still held in his arms squealed with delight.
"Come on. I have a surprise for you," Duo said.
Quatre and Trowa exchanged worried glances.
That look in Duo's eyes, and a surprise... That combination in the past had been dangerous. They both privately hoped that their manic friend had grown up enough that this stunt, whatever it was, wouldn't get them killed.
Well, he was holding a child... He wouldn't do anything too dangerous with that girl clinging to him, would he?
This was Duo they were talking about.
With a fatalistic sigh, the two men followed in the braided man's wake.
They saw him stop suddenly as he reached an arched doorway. A soft, tender smile flitted across his face as he peered into the room.
Quatre and Trowa approached from behind warily, peeking over his shoulder, ready to duck if need be.
Quatre's jaw dropped open, and a soft gasp of surprise clawed it's way out of his throat.
The room was comfortably furnished with heavily upholstered couches and overstuffed chairs. There was a large screen TV on one end of the room, and dozens of bean bag chairs and nap mats scattered all over the large room.
But what surprised Quatre the most was the quartet tumbled together amidst a pile of bean chairs.
Heero lay sprawled against one of the beanbags, eyes closed, and obviously napping blissfully. Cradled on his chest was a very small baby, probably only a month or three old, also napping blissfully. Snuggled against his left side up under his arm slept a girl, about three or so Quatre guessed, with the most amazing shock of chestnut hair and a cherubic expression gracing her unconscious features. The last child who lay with her head pillowed on Heero's right thigh was a duplicate of the child in Duo's arms; her twin. There was a children's book lying carelessly on the floor beside them, probably where it landed after slipping from Heero's fingers when he fell asleep.
"Aren't they cute?" Duo whispered, his face still dreamy and wistful.
Quatre opened his mouth to answer, but nothing would come out. He blinked.
And then suddenly realized that the child held so carefully in Duo's arms, the twin of the girl snuggled so lovingly against Heero's legs, also shared that amazing chestnut hair... but she had the same piercing Prussian blue eyes that as Heero.
Duo glanced over at Quatre, mischief sparkling in his eyes now.
"Oh yeah... I guess I forgot to mention... I found Heero a few years ago. Quatre, Trowa, I'd like you to meet our children. This is Kegero. Her sister, Helen, is the one on his legs. The girl on the other side is Mina, and the baby is Odin."
Quatre blinked again.
"I- You never told us... Why?"
Duo looked a little guilty.
"Yeah.. Sorry about that. I guess life just got a little hectic after I finally found him. We spent a little while figuring things out and then setting this place up. Then we started a family... I guess I just.... Forgot?" Duo said sheepishly.
"Besides... I figured Relena would have told you," he said, glancing back at them both.
"We don't speak much... We're both far too busy..." Quatre replied, his voice trailing off as he kept trying to absorb the shock of, not only seeing Heero, but seeing Heero with children. His own children. Taking a nap. Sprawled on a beanie chair. It was all far too domestic. It didn't want to compute in his brain.
"Da?" Kegero said shyly.
"I've got lessons," she said, nodding towards the clock, "Helen too..."
"Oh yes! I almost forgot. Well, let's wake everyone up," he said, kneeling to set her down on the floor.
"Four o'clock dance lessons," Duo explained.
He crept over towards Heero and leaned over to carefully scoop the slumbering baby from the Japanese man's arms. Surprisingly, he didn't awaken. As soon as Duo had the baby and was relatively out of the way, he grinned and nodded at his daughter still standing in the doorway.
With a squeal of delight, she launched herself at the remaining trio, landing on her father's stomach with a crow of laughter.
Heero's eyes snapped open with a surprised grunt. He instinctively sought out Duo where he stood nearby holding their son safely. Satisfied that the baby was in no danger, he turned his attention to his giggling daughter who was even now trying to tickle everyone awake.
Helen and Mina had also come fully awake when Kegero had landed on their father. With a conspiratorial grin at each other, everyone turned on Heero and put their talented small hands to work trying to get him to laugh.
"Oh, you think so, do you?" he said with a low chuckle and a calculating smile,
Taking advantage of his larger size and faster reflexes, he quickly turned the tables on them, giving back as good as he got.
But there were three of them to one of him. It was a pitched battle from the onset. And they had obviously inherited Duo's devilishness.
Heero lost before he even began.
Finally giving in to the laughter in his eyes, he chuckled heartily and gathered all three of them up into his arms."Enough! Enough! You win! I surrender!"
Three shrieks of girlish joy rang out and they glomped him in return.
He continued to chuckle until Kegero broke away.
"C'mon, Helen... We got lessons."
"Have," her father corrected absently.
"We have lessons," Kegero said dutifully as she grabbed her sister's hand and pulled her to her feet.
"M' coming! M' coming!" Helen said.
"Scoot. I'll be up in a little while to see how you're doing," their father instructed, shooing them off as he climbed to his feet, the three year old still clinging to his neck.
Quatre watched, amazed at the easy-going cheer of the formerly broody ex-pilot. Fatherhood certainly seemed to agree with him.
"We have visitors," Duo told his mate, smirking wickedly as he nodded to the door.
Heero schooled his face into a neutrally pleasant expression as he turned towards the door.
His jaw dropped and he blinked in shock, his expression a mirror to Quatre's own disbelieving one.
They stood there in silence for a few long moments, neither quite sure what to say to the other. It had been almost- no over ten years since they'd last seen each other.
The baby chose that moment to wake up, and judging from the ear-splitting scream, he was hungry.
Heero jumped, turning towards Duo.
"Here. Take Mina. I'll take care of him," he said, still blinking away his shock.
Duo looked like he was going to protest, but, after reading the confusion and surprise in his mate's eyes, decided against it.
"We'll be in the sun room," Duo said, trading children.
Quatre watched as Heero nodded and then seemed to flee the room.
"Come on," Duo instructed them, walking through the living room into a porch-like room filled with windows. Sunlight flooded in, filling the room cheerily. He plopped to a boneless sprawl in yet another exquisite example of hand-carved Lowe furniture, and settled his daughter on his lap.
"Mina? This is Quatre and Trowa. They're friends of papa and I."
The girl stared up at them through her lashes, eyes wide and curious. One small finger lifted to her mouth as she stared at them silently. She absently chewed on her fingertip for a little bit before deciding their fate. A brilliant smile broke over her features and she threw out her arms and leaned towards Trowa.
"I think she likes you," Duo said, helping his daughter to fling herself into the other man's lap.
Trowa stared down at the angelic face of the child in his lap with something approaching wariness. Lions? Lions he could handle. Three-year-olds? That was uncharted territory.
"Hi," she bubbled happily.
"Papa's gettin' Odin a bottle," she declared proudly.
Satisfied, she turned and made herself comfortable in Trowa's lap, snuggling up against his stomach and settling down for a nice sit.
Duo chuckled at the helpless expression on Trowa's face.
"I'm guessing that you two don't have any kids yet, then," he laughed.
Quatre hid the small smile playing at the corners of his mouth by coughing into his hand politely. Trowa was so cute when he was out of his depth.
"No. We've been a little... busy. Looks like you have too," he said, quirking an eyebrow up and nodding towards the rest of the house.
"Yeah. Well... I always wanted a big family. Speaking of which... Sorry about him. I should have known this would be a big shock. It's not you guys. He's just been up almost nonstop with Odin for the last few weeks while I've been dealing with all the lawyers and reporters and courts and stuff. He's been pretty bushed. He needs a vacation or something."
"No. It's all right. Really. I- Well, I was a little shocked myself," Quatre replied, smiling at Duo's discomfort."Fatherhood seems to have agreed with you both," Trowa said.
Duo smiled widely, nodding in agreement.
"Yeah. It's been a blast. He's a great dad."
"You aren't so bad yourself, koibito."
Quatre turned to see Heero standing in the doorway with the baby cradled in his arms, contentedly working his way through a bottle.
"Yeah, but that's because they can all relate to me. I already act their age, as it is," Duo grinned.
Heero snorted softly as he entered the room and took a seat next to Duo.
"Oh, that reminds me... Q-man, you mentioned something about my insane choice of furnishings?" Duo said innocently.Quatre's eyes narrowed. Duo was at it again.
"Yes," he replied warily, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"You'll have to blame that on him," he said, pointing to his mate with a jerk of his thumb.
"It was all his idea. Of course, he did so enjoy making it all."
"Making it all?" Quatre asked, his face a comic study of bafflement.
"Ohyeah. Quatre, Trowa, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Kenji Lowe."
Quatre glanced over at the Japanese man, eyes blinking in confusion.
"It's my real name. Well, as real as I figure. I haven't used my old code name since I left Relena's ten years ago," he replied.
"You're Kenji Lowe?" Quatre asked.
"THE Kenji Lowe."
He nodded again, a small smile playing at his lips.
"The master carpenter. The renowned master carpenter."
"Yes. I... uh... I kind of picked up the knack while I was running from Duo," he replied awkwardly.
Trowa started laughing. It was a surprising sound, deep and rich, and very infectious.
"It figures. Can you imagine him not excelling at something he put his mind to?" Trowa finally managed to say.
Quatre had to admit that Trowa had a point. He shook his head ruefully.
"What a world," he muttered, giving in to the chuckle tickling his throat.
Duo grinned and stood.
"I'm thirsty. Anyone else want anything to drink?"
"Sure. Tea?" Quatre asked hopefully.
"Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Oolong, or Jasmine?" Duo asked, unfazed.
Quatre stared at him in surprise.
"Earl Grey, if you please."
"What? You think we're barbarians here, Q-man? We have tea," Duo replied with a grin as he turned to Trowa.
"Cool. Be right back."
With that, he flounced out of the room, trusting in Quatre to keep the conversation going.
Mark intercepted him halfway to the kitchen.
"Everything's fine. They'd built a corral and fort out of old boxes and cardboard tubes. The crash was just the Escape of the Wild Mustangs," Mark said with a wry grin.
"Nothing broken, I trust?"
"Nah... just a few crushed boxes and some very frustrated cowboys. I took away all of their jump-rope lassos, though."
"Good idea. I guess Mustangs and Cowboys is better than Cowboys and Indians, though... "
"Or Gundams and Oz," Mark replied softly.
Duo acknowledged the sharp young man with a nod. "True. True. I trust that you'll keep all the ponies corralled while our visitors are here..."
"No problem. If all else fails, I'll have the Girls beat them all into submission," he grinned.
Duo chuckled at that, thankful that every boy under the age of eight in the orphanage, and everyone over the age of twelve, were completely smitten by the twins. When the direst threats of no TV or dessert failed to work, a simple pout and a stamping of a foot from either Kegero or Helen was enough to snap anyone into line. Duo ran one of the cleanest, safest, happiest orphanages anyone had ever seen. "Thanks, Mark. We'll be in the sunroom if you need us."
The teen turned and headed back upstairs while Duo went to fetch drinks.
"So you founded Habitat?" Trowa asked.
Duo walked in to the sunroom, balancing a tray of cups and glasses on one hand, while the other hand was occupied carrying a large plate of cheese and crackers.
"Yes. And then I worked with Habitat for about three years until Duo finally managed to track me down."
"Of course that was all Relena's fault," Duo interjected with a smile.
"If she hadn't forced me into taking that vacation... I'd have never found the bank account number I used to find him. Then again, if you'd never run in the first place, I wouldn't have needed the vacation," Duo said with a mock glare. Seven years of partnership had dulled the ache of that mad flight and subsequent separation; they both found that they could laugh about it now.
Duo set the trays down, handing Trowa and Quatre their tea, handing Mina a tippy cup full of juice, setting a tall glass of some sort of bright blue fluid before Kenji, and taking a cup of coffee for himself.
Quatre eyed the blue stuff with wide eyes.
"Kool-aid," Kenji explained with a grin, "Blame Duo. He got me hooked on the stuff."
Quatre shook his head slowly.
"I have to admit... this whole... Domestic you... It's quite thrown me for a loop."
"Well, one of the two of us had to grow up... God only knew it wouldn't be me!" Duo replied with a laugh.
That got a chuckle out of everyone, even Trowa.
"True," Quatre agreed, "True. Well then. Down to business. Trowa and I had actually come by to invite you to one of my estates for a vacation and reunion."
"Gee, that's awful generous of you, Quatre... But I think that would be a tall order. It's so tough for us to get away. The kids and all that. It's not like we can just find a baby-sitter for thirty rambunctious kids, plus our own brood," Duo replied regretfully.
"So bring them with you."
Duo gaped at Quatre, shaking his head as if to clear his ears.
"I said, bring them with you. They can hang out with the Maganac kids. It's not as if we wouldn't have the room for them all. Bring them with you and give them a vacation too. I know Rashid and the others would love it, and they can keep an eye on them all. And you were the one who said he needed a 'vacation or something.' "
Duo bit his lower lip and seemed to consider it for a moment.
"I can charter a shuttle to get you all there," Quatre offered, sweetening the pot.
Duo glanced over at his mate, eyes questioning. The Japanese man simply paused in burping Odin to shrug negligently."That's awful nice of you to offer, Quatre... but-"
"But what? I'm not going to quit pestering you until you say yes. I could be fighting dirty, you know. I could have waited until you had a whole crowd of your 'kids' around you and then made the offer."
Duo's eyes widened as he considered the implications. Thirty whining voices crying "Why not?" sprang to mind. He shuddered. "You wouldn't."
"I'm a businessman. I've learned to be underhanded and ruthless to get what I want," Quatre replied smoothly.
Duo frowned, sighing.
"Private rooms with your own hot tub. Someone to watch all of the kids all the time. An entire estate for them to roam on," Quatre said, watching as Duo hovered between accepting and declining.
He decided to play his trump card.
"A gourmet chef on call twenty-four hours a day."
Duo sighed explosively, running a hand through his unruly bangs as he eyed Quatre.
"You really have become devious, haven't you? Okay... Okay... We'll come. You win."
Quatre flashed his most winning smile as he steepled his fingers in front of his chin.
"Cocky, aren't you?"
"Yes, he is," Trowa deadpanned mischievously.
Odin broke the silence with a resounding belch.
All eyes turned towards Kenji and the baby snuggled against his shoulder. The Japanese man simply shrugged philosophically.
Duo broke into hearty laughter.
"Q-man, you sly old dog!"
Quatre preened, studiously ignoring both Duo and Trowa.
"Okay," Duo said when he finally got control of himself again, " When?"
"Whenever you can be ready," Quatre replied, "I could have the shuttle ready by tomorrow."
"Whoa. Not that soon! How about the end of the week? I finish with my last deposition tomorrow, and then we're free for a while. We could have everyone ready by Saturday or so."
"Sounds good," Quatre agreed.
"I sure hope you know what you're getting into, Q-man," Duo warned.
"I think my people can handle a few dozen kids, Duo."
"Just remember that when Rashid tenders his resignation," Duo quipped.
Quatre smiled fatuously and then stood.
"I hate to run, but Trowa and I have an appointment soon. We'll be in town for another day or so. We'll make sure to stop by before we have to leave town, okay?"
"Okay, Quatre," Duo replied, "If for nothing else than the shuttle information."
Everyone else stood and started heading for the front of the house and the main door there.
"We already contacted Wufei. He'll be there by Wednesday. If you decide you can make it earlier, then call me at this number," Quatre said, handing Duo a card.
Duo nodded, scanning the number as he opened their front door politely. "Will do. I really hope you know what you're getting yourself into, Quatre. Just make sure you warn the Maganacs, okay? I don't want them after me..."
Quatre turned on their porch and fixed Duo with a smile. "Relax, Duo. I'll have it taken care of. They're just kids. What could go wrong?"
Duo and Kenji exchanged a look, and then both dissolved into laughter. "Just remember. You were warned."
Quatre smiled again, although this time there was a hint of nervousness to it. Why did that sound so ominous?
He shook his head, waved good-bye, and took Trowa's hand as they walked to the curb and the taxi that had obediently returned for them at the time Quatre had instructed.
It wasn't until they'd climbed into the cab, and it had pulled away from the orphanage that a thought struck Quatre like a bolt from the heavens.
Thirty-some orphans of varying ages... raised by Duo.
Dear god. What had he gotten himself into?
Return to Reiko-chan's Dirty Books